Hello! And welcome to the next part of my story. If you are looking for information on where my journey started, please do start with Tina’s Story Post #1 and read my updates in order. Otherwise, thank you for reading this edition of my story!
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A Quick Employment Search
Luckily, for me, I only had 5 months of a very quick employment search. I graduated from my teaching certification program in January and by May, was offered a full-time position with a curriculum management company who also employed teachers. In my opinion, I was very, very lucky. I have friends who substitute taught for YEARS before finding a permanent teaching position and some even had to move to different states to do so. But somehow, I landed a full-time teaching position with a company that was located only 15-20 minutes from my house. And while I was pregnant, I might add. Score!
So after only 5 months of substitute teaching for my local Educational Service Center and holding a two-month part-time position as an Instructional Aide for a PA school district, I had landed a yearly salary, benefits, retirement; the works. And after only a few months of working there, all teachers were approved to work from home full-time. This was an outstanding opportunity for me to be able to take care of my health, be aware of the condition of my pregnancy, and still have a career of some kind. It honestly amazes me how hard simple things like getting up, getting ready, and driving to work in the morning had become.
In addition to my ongoing health problems, my pregnancy was also considered high-risk. Even though my bloodwork and physical examinations were a poster child for a medical journal or textbook, my doctors were still worried about how my conditions would react to pregnancy. Thankfully, even though we endured all high-risk testing and precautions, I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy on October 15, 2013 who was perfect and healthy in every way. And me, even though I had some complications in labor, I would persevere and enjoy such a special time with my husband and family with no crazy health issues flaring during this time.
Six Months as a New Mama
Like most new mamas, I was determined to take care of everything and everyone. I had a new baby who needed constant attention, a husband I wanted to take care of, and home responsibilities most women consider “theirs”. Even though we had a few hiccups in our journey with my newborn son, nothing threw us off course for very long. Breastfeeding had failed so we had to turn to formula. Some formulas did not agree with my little guy’s tummy so we had to make a few switches there as well. Gas was a definite problem at first and so was acid reflux. And sleep was elusive for at least the first 3 weeks.
However, as time went on and we got used to being new parents, everything started to settle down. My son started sleeping through the night. I returned to work after only being off for 3 weeks. And everything seemed to be getting back to a “new normal”. One day, my son had just woken up from a quick nap and I decided I would hop in the shower for a quick second. I could see my son’s crib directly across the hall from the bathroom and he was just laying and talking to himself contentedly.
When I stepped out of the shower, everything turned black and I started experiencing heart palpitations. I found myself sitting down on the floor, unable to move. All I remember is staring at my son across the hallway willing myself not to pass out on my bathroom floor. I was the only one home at the time and all I could think about was staying conscious for my baby. I remember thinking to myself, “What in the world is happening to me? Is this what a heart attack feels like?”
Somehow, I apparently had called both my husband and father-in-law while this was happening even though I do not remember doing so. My husband immediately left work and came home to find me a shaking (and naked) mess on our bathroom floor. I was conscious but I was not necessarily coherent. After finally getting me to acknowledge him, he helped me get dressed, had my mother-in-law come watch the baby, and drove me to the hospital.
Hypothyroidism; What the Heck is That?
When we arrived at the hospital, the hospital staff was really good about rushing me into a room and hooking me up to what felt like a million machines. One of those was an EKG machine where they were attempting to figure out if I had, indeed, had a heart attack of some kind. To add to my already-confused state of mind, my EKG showed no signs of any heart problems and showed no indication that any problems had even occurred. So, the hospital staff continued searching. They took some blood work and monitored me closely as we waited for my blood results to come back and when they did, we were all very surprised.
Apparently, a normal thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) range is between 1 and 4. At the hospital, mine was at 20. 20! That meant that my thyroid was functioning so slowly that it was not doing its job at all. Not even close! Now, even though I had experienced some symptoms of low thyroid function prior to this episode, my Primary Care Physician (PCP) had blamed these symptoms on being a new mama. Low thyroid function symptoms can consist of fatigue, the inability to concentrate, and overall sleepiness, all of which all new mamas are usually very familiar with. However, our baby had been sleeping through the night since he was just 3 weeks old so when I originally asked my PCP about these symptoms four months earlier, I was surprised that he hadn’t looked into anything further. But, he was the doctor, right? So, I listened and returned home thinking I was just overreacting and my symptoms were normal.
Well, apparently, my symptoms were not normal and my intuition was correct. I had very low thyroid function (also known as hypothyroidism) and my body had to alert me to what was happening somehow; cue the heart palpitations and the cardiac-like episode I had just experienced. So, I left the hospital with more questions than answers along with strict orders to follow up with my PCP, to get on thyroid replacement hormones, and to follow up with an endocrinologist as soon as possible.
The next day, I followed up with my PCP and was immediately placed on Synthroid, a common thyroid replacement medication, and made an appointment to see an endocrinologist. During this time, my PCP suspected two other conditions: Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia so he also referred me to a rheumatologist as well. This experience was a bit frustrating because like I said, I had asked him about these same symptoms about four months prior and he had ignored them and now I was in a position where it was going to take a lot of time to get things back under control.
Welcome Hashimoto’s Disease
Once I saw my Endocrinologist and had some testing done, it was determined that I have Hashimoto’s Disease, an autoimmune disease where the immune system attacks the thyroid. This type of autoimmune disease is also genetic and usually runs in families. This made sense because I remembered that my grandfather (my mom’s dad who passed away in 2002) and my mom have both used thyroid replacement hormone medications. Also, about 2 years after my own diagnosis, my brother would be diagnosed as well.
So, now that we knew what was going on and why, we kept trying to figure out where to go from here. My Endocrinologist only recommended the thyroid replacement hormone and did not stress changing much else. At this time, my Crohn’s Disease symptoms would flare from time to time and I found myself not being able to manage cold weather or rain. I hurt more, was irritable, and was also suffering from Postpartum Depression.
Here I was at 29 with now TWO autoimmune diseases, a history of health problems, and still no known cause for any of it. I was starting to feel like I lived at doctors’ offices and I was somehow part of a cruel experiment or study that I didn’t know about. Even four years ago, I knew in my heart there would be more to this story and I KNEW deep down that medication could not fix everything. But, unfortunately, I only listened to my doctors, followed up with them as needed, kept getting blood work to make sure my levels eventually made it back down to “normal” and didn’t really change much else.
At present day my TSH levels hover between 1 and 3 and we haven’t had to change my medication dose for quite some time. I’m down to only following up with my Endocrinologist every 6 months and things seem a tad more manageable than they were before. However, I’m always tired, still have a hard time concentrating at times, and feel like I talk through a bingo roller. Sometimes it feels like my brain knows what it wants my mouth to say, but my mouth doesn’t remember how to say it. So, I stammer and forget the point I was trying to make a few seconds after I start to make it. According to other people that I’ve talked to, these all seem to be “normal” life experiences for living with Hashimoto’s Disease. Whether they are medically documented that way or not, there are a lot of similarities between my experiences and many others.
Are We Done Yet?
By this point, you might be wondering if I am done catching you up to speed on my own personal stories. Unfortunately, I am not. The tale only continues from here.
As you are reading, please do remember that I am not a medical professional, nurse, health coach, or any other health professional of any kind. I am a patient with years of experience with autoimmune disease and will be sharing information and resources from a patient’s perspective; however, please do keep in mind that anything that I share here should not replace any medical advice you should receive from a doctor or other medical professional. Please consult with your doctor before changing anything in your routine or care. You can read more about this here.